When most people envision eating on a budget, they think about cheap ingredients and fillers such as white bread, hot dogs, top ramen and a wide range of processed foods that remain cheaper than buying whole foods. The problem with that is that most of us know that it is not healthy to eat that way, and yet we despair because it seems to be the only way that many of us can afford to eat.
As someone that has been on a very limited income and not had a lot of money to spend on food, I can definitely say that there is a better way. You can eat healthy, feed your family wholesome foods and do so without going over your budgeted amounts. It simply takes a bit of ingenuity and planning to make it all happen.
These tips have helped me to feed my family in the past, and continue to ensure that we not only have enough to eat but that we always eat healthy.
1) Keep it Simple – One of the biggest traps that families get into when it comes to trying to eat healthy while on a budget is finding recipes that are loaded with complicated ingredients or ingredients that are expensive and unnecessary. The Internet is filled with recipes like this that have cheeses, spices, and a wide range of other ingredients that you would never buy if not for a recipe and may never use again after you make the recipe you bought them for.
Don’t let yourself get caught in this trap, look for recipes that have affordable ingredients or ingredients that you can either make or substitute out. Keep your recipes simple and avoid recipes that rely on processed foods to prepare. If you need quick meals, cook simply or use your crock pot.
I tend to avoid recipes that have a lot of cheese for instance (or choose recipes that do not use a lot of cheese), cheese is expensive ( low fat cheeses even more so), high in fat, and can be substituted out in the diet for other dairy products or foods high in calcium. If you just cannot live without your cheese, cut the stated amount in your recipe in half.
Substitute expensive spices or other ingredients with similar items or just omit entirely. Food tastes just as good if you use less expensive ingredients and your budget will thank you for it. If you find a recipes that uses processed food, substitute your own homemade versions instead.
Finally there is something very satisfying about a simply meal made from simple ingredients, fresh foods can provide most of the flavor you want and need without adding expensive extras.
2) Buy and Eat Whole Foods – This is another big one in our family, processed foods are not good for you, and while you may already know this, it may seem way too easy to pick up those easy to fix meals rather than buying the ingredients you need to make it yourself. And while some processed foods are cheaper, if you are trying to eat healthy the processed foods you are likely to buy are going to be more expensive than just eating a simple whole foods diet.
Visit the produce, dairy and meat sections and avoid all the canned and boxed foods in the middle of the store, and you will likely spend less and eat better.
3) Make Menus – This suggestion is all about planning, making menus allows you to utilize the foods you do buy, using them up, eating leftovers and leaving nothing to waste. In our home, we work very hard not to waste any food, but to ensure that everything gets used for another meal.
4) Grow Your Own Food – This is so important, a dollar pack of seeds can produce a harvest worth 10 to 50 times the value of the seeds. Even if you think you do not have a green thumb or that you do not have enough room or sun, there is a garden solution for you that can save you big money every single week on your grocery bill.
A tomato plant can be planted in a bucket, lettuce can be tucked into a flower garden and even potatoes and carrots can be grown in containers. There are dozens of vegetables that can be planted in gardens in the shade, and even full sun crops will produce in non-full sun areas given enough time. Be creative and you will surprise yourself how much food you can pack into a tiny little yard.
Another tip: Buy last year’s seeds when they are being cleared out, they will cost you half of what they cost at the beginning of the year and they can be vacuum sealed and froze for next year’s garden.
5) Make Your Own Ingredients – If there are certain expensive ingredients you just cannot do without, make your own. While you might not be able to reasonably do this with everything you buy, there are a lot of things you can make and the bonus? They taste far better than what you would buy in the store. You can make your own sun dried tomatoes for instance, by growing your own tomatoes and dehydrating them. The end result will be full of flavor but will cost you a very small fraction of what it costs to buy the same tomatoes in the store. Catsup, mustard, barbeque sauce, soups and much, much more can be made at home. The Bonus? Avoid ingredients you don’t want in your family’s diets such as high fructose corn syrup, MSG and a host of other additives.
For every ingredient you buy, you can find a recipe online for it, some of them are quite easy to make and can take a big bite out of your food bill.
6) Learn to can and Freeze – One of the big pluses of growing your own food is putting it up for use during the winter. Canning and freezing what you grow allows you to make a big dent in your grocery budget. What is even better is if you buy fresh produce in the summer, you can preserve this as well, providing you with an affordable source of wholesome foods for the winter. Canned and frozen fruits purchased in season can save you big on the cost of fruit in the middle of the winter, and it will be healthier since it is local rather than imported.
7) Shop for Local Produce in Season – Shopping local is also an important consideration, if you cannot grow a lot of your own food, then local markets can often offer rock bottom prices on local produce. Because the food is not being transported thousands of miles it is going to cost less, but even better than that it is going to taste better and be healthier than produce that was picked early to make sure it does not spoil before it gets to market.
8) Shop the Sales and Stock up on staples – Since most Americans will never be able to grow most of their own food, you still need to know how to navigate the market. If you keep a pantry of any kind, you can stock up during the sales and gets meats when they are in season and on sale. The same goes for a lot of other foods including produce.
Take the time to identify the best time to buy any food you must buy from the market and then make it a point to stock up when that time comes around.
9) Don’t be Afraid to Use Coupons – I often wondered how much of an effect shows like Extreme Couponers had on the average shopper. I am sure for some people it motivated them to use more coupons, but for some I am equally sure that it left them ready to give up on couponing before they even tried.
Never be afraid to look at and clip the coupons that you get, it does not take a lot of time, and sure you will not be able to get your food free, but you can certainly save a bit of money. It all adds up in the end, so don’t hesitate to use the resources you have.
IMPORTANT: Don’t get caught up in using coupons just for the challenge or thrill, use some common sense and avoid buying foods that you know are not healthy or you will not eat. That is defeating the purpose; choose only coupons that serve the purpose of eating healthy on a budget.
10) Eat Meatless Meals – Meatless meals can sometimes be a sore spot with a lot of families, but the simple truth is that we all eat far more meat than we really need. Even government agencies recommend adding a few meatless meals to our menus and there are good reasons to take that advice.
Protein is present in most foods, to one degree or another, you will do no harm to your family to avoid meat for a couple of days a week and by doing so you can slash their saturated fat and cholesterol intake considerably.
Meat is also expensive, so avoiding it a couple days a week can make a significant dent in your budget.
The biggest mistake that families make when making meatless meals is attempting to replace or cover up the fact that the meat is missing. Instead of trying to put something else in your recipes that will not taste as good to your family no matter what you do in its place, try to look for meatless recipes that can stand on their own as good dishes. Or make a meal out of meatless entrees that you already enjoy such as mashed potatoes or fried rice.
It is entirely possible for you to cut your grocery bills down dramatically and still eat healthier, in fact it is much easier to do this with a healthy whole food diet than it is with processed foods and it is just a matter of a change in your approach. Rather than spending all day looking for freebies, coupons and discounts, spend your day tending a few tomato plants or planting your own lettuce and radishes. You will feel healthier for it, and your budget will thank you.